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Legislature roundup: Bills on homeless, racist legacy, bullying, unemployment insurance advance

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Here are several news releases received from Salem on Thursday on legislation making its way through the Oregon Legislature:

From the Oregon House Democrats:

Oregon House Democrats Pass Bill Protecting Survival Activities in Public Space
HB 3115 protects Oregonians sleeping outdoors when no reasonable alternative is available
SALEM, OR—Today, House Democrats passed House Bill 3115, which will ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness are protected from fines or arrest for sleeping or camping on public property when there are no other options.

Without adequate alternatives like housing, shelter, and safe camping spaces, some Oregonians are left with no option but to sleep outside in public spaces – in a park, under an overpass, or wherever they can find shelter and safety.

In 2019, the federal court ruling in the case of Martin v. City of Boise required local governments to reconsider how they treat people who are experiencing homelessness. The court found that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Plainly, local governments cannot adopt ordinances that criminalize homelessness when no alternative is made available. HB 3115 operationalizes the principles of that landmark decision.

“Even prior to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, local governments didn’t have enough shelter space for everyone who needed it, let alone enough permanent affordable housing options,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek (D- North Portland). “This bill is one piece of a much bigger effort to address Oregon’s housing crisis by increasing the state’s supply of affordable housing, supporting Oregonians who are experiencing homelessness, preventing evictions and foreclosures, and reducing housing disparities for communities of color.”

House Bill 3115 affirms a key principle of current case law: if a city chooses to regulate “survival activities” like sitting, lying, sleeping or keeping warm and dry, those laws must be reasonable. They must take into account the resources available to houseless individuals and the impact of the regulations on persons experiencing homelessness. This statutory framework will also protect individuals experiencing homelessness from fines or arrest for sleeping or camping on public property when there are no other options.

HB 3115, which passed 36-22, now moves to the Senate for consideration. The full list of housing policy and budget priorities developed by Speaker Kotek and the chairs of the House and Senate Housing Committees can be found here.

From Oregon Senate Democrats:

Oregon Senate Approves Memorials and Resolution Calling for End to Racist Legacy of Slavery

SALEM – Today the Oregon Senate approved three measures that make progress to end and repair the racist legacy of slavery in Oregon and the United States. the interest of racial justice and addressing relics of systemic racism. Senate Joint Memorial 2, Senate Joint Memorial 4 and Senate Joint Resolution 10 were championed by Oregon Senate Democrats and received broad support on the Senate Floor.

The legacy of slavery continues to be a substantial problem in Oregon. The Memorials and Resolution passed today seek action to remove antiquated language from our federal and state constitutions and to study ways to repair and heal those who have suffered from historic racism.

Senate Joint Memorial 2 urges Congress to amend the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery, to omit the clause that makes an exception for criminal punishment, removing the racist legacy of slavery in this critical, guiding document.

“Our constitutions should no longer provide a loophole for slavery by allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) who chief sponsored SJM 2 and SJR 10.

Jordynn, an 11 year old, testified during the hearing on these measures. She said, “By disallowing involuntary servitude we can improve the way people think and the way people feel inside and outside the criminal justice system…people should not be considered as property or considered anything less than human.”

“Jordynn is absolutely right,” said Senator Wagner. “Under our current system too many are considered ‘property or less than human’ and we must actively work against that.”

Senate Joint Resolution 10 would refer a change in Oregon’s constitution to the voters to remove language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude for punishment of a crime, when a party has been duly convicted. When approved by the House of Representative and signed into law, it will appear on the next general election ballot in November 2022.

“I see racism everywhere I go, and I have experienced it. It is long embedded within the fabric of our state’s history – it is even codified in Oregon’s Constitution by allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment,” said Senator James I. Manning Jr. (D-Eugene) who introduced SJR 10. “We know BIPOC Oregonians are disproportionately incarcerated and therefore disproportionately still enslaved. If we want to end racism, our most important documents should demonstrate that loud and clear,” Senator Manning Jr. added.

Senate Joint Memorial 4 urges Congress to pass House Resolution 40, which would establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans – providing a step forward on the path toward restorative justice.

“As W.E.B. Dubois said, ‘The nation has not yet found peace from its sins.’ By passing SJM 4 and encouraging Congress to pass HR 40, we offer an opportunity to get closer in discovering that peace,” said Senator Lew Frederick (D-N/NE Portland) who carried SJM 4. “The lasting effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws and so-called Black Codes have been passed down through generations and are felt today. They are felt in the fear Black men and women experience every day, the air quality where we live; it is felt in school segregation, our average incomes, our long-term outcomes and our life expectancy. We can and should work to right these wrongs, the Senate demonstrated its willingness to do so today.”

Senate Joint Memorial 2 passed 27-2, Senate Joint Memorial 4 passed 20-9 and Senate Joint Resolution 10 passed 27-2. All three measures now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

From Oregon House Republican Caucus:

Republican bill would take on school bullying by involving parents and guardians

SALEM, Ore. – Today the Oregon House of Representatives unanimously passed a Republican bill that would ensure schools have policies in place to notify parents about instances of bullying.

Provisions are included to allow students to override this requirement in situations where it is warranted.

Bullying is pervasive in schools and requires support and engagement from not only school professionals, but families who can offer the mental and emotional support students need to recover from their trauma. Taking on bullying, harassment, intimidation, and cyberbullying are keys to achieving the goal of better mental health outcomes for students.

“So many of our kids are hurting, and those closest to them deserve to know,” said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby,) carrier of the bill. “This ensures that parents and guardians are notified if their child is a victim of bullying in school, giving them the opportunity to be part of a solution.”

HB 2631 A was unanimously passed on the House floor.

From Oregon House Republican Caucus:

Republicans push comprehensive fixes to Oregon’s unemployment benefits system

SALEM, Ore. – A Republican-sponsored bill that was approved by the House with unanimous support seeks to introduce a number of fixes to Oregon’s unemployment benefits system.

Chief among them is allowing businesses to reset their unemployment insurance taxes owed to pre-pandemic rates.

Throughout the past year, government-mandated closures forced businesses with significantly less revenue to lay off staff in unprecedented numbers. This had unforeseen ramifications for the assessment of unemployment insurance taxes owed, leading to a dramatic rise in tax obligations at a time when business revenue was lowest.

HB 3389, backed by Republican sponsors, would allow businesses that saw this tax increase to defer some payments and even forgive a percentage of the deferred taxes. This bill also ensures that tax rates don’t rise further because of impacts from the pandemic.

Representative Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles) is a chief sponsor on the bill and was responsible for negotiating the measures outlined by the proposal.

“This pandemic-related relief is exactly why we’re here right now,” added Rep. Bonham. “85 percent of all Oregon businesses saw their unemployment tax rates increase in 2021. That could have a significant impact on the recovery of jobs in Oregon, and is why we needed this fix.”

“Oregon’s unemployment benefits system was put through tremendous strain during this past year, and that exposed serious flaws that needed to be addressed,” said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby,) one of the bill’s sponsors. “At the start of this session, we said that business relief would be a top priority so that we can recover lost jobs. Fixing the errors in our state’s unemployment benefits system is one way that we can provide relief to Oregonians.”

HB 3389 was passed with unanimous support on the House floor.

From Oregon House Democrats:

Oregon House Passes COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Relief Bill
House Bill 3389 would provide an estimated $2.4 billion in relief over 10 years
SALEM, OR—In response to the ongoing economic fallout from the global COVID pandemic, the Oregon House tonight passed House Bill 3389, which will provide $2.4 billion in unemployment insurance relief to small businesses who have been impacted the most.

The bill recognizes that because of the impact of necessary public health responses to the pandemic, Oregon businesses faced unprecedented levels of layoffs. Normally, such a jump in unemployment claims would trigger increases in UI tax rates, at a time when small businesses are struggling to get back on their feet. HB 3389 will remedy that by adjusting how UI rates are calculated and excluding 2020 and 2021 from businesses’ “experience ratings.”HB 3389 provides nearly $100 million in relief this year and has the long-term goal of reducing taxes collected by $2.4 billion while maintaining the solvency of the unemployment insurance trust.

“I really appreciate the bipartisan work that went into developing this bill.” says Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene), co-sponsor of the bill. “As we continue our economic recovery, the legislature is looking to do everything we can to help businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

To limit spikes in unemployment insurance tax rates, HB 3389 makes changes regarding the calculation and payment of unemployment insurance taxes to provide employers immediate and longer-term relief.
The bill codifies a policy the Oregon Employment Department has in place allowing employers to defer up to one-third of their 2021 tax obligation without accruing interest or penalties until June 30, 2022. It also forgives those deferred payments up to 100% for some businesses most affected by COVID-19 closures.
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